Killing The Past in Five Simple Steps

Little me

 

I’ve always hated blog posts that say “10 Ways To Get What You Want Fast” or “4 Things That Prove You Are Doing It Wrong”. You can find a list on any magazine cover and according to editors, lists sell the most copies. They also work well for blog posts. People just seem to like the list. I don’t, but I thought it would work best in this particular post, so here’s my list.

1. Recognize that you are the keeper of the key

I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s because I read so much – but the Universe seems to communicate with me through quotes. To me, quotes are like photographs. One image or small cluster of words can convey huge, heart-stirring messages and once that message is heard, others come flooding in to back it up.

Here’s the quote that sparked my latest download of epiphanies:

The first key to warriorship and the first principle of Shambhala vision is not being afraid of who you are. Ultimately, that is the definition of bravery: not being afraid of yourself. . . . When we are afraid of ourselves and afraid of the seeming threat the world presents, then we become extremely selfish. We want to build our own little nests, our own cocoons, so that we can live by ourselves in a secure way.

from Shambhala – The Sacred Path of the Warrior

The key phrase for me is “not being afraid of yourself.” That little girl you see in the photo is who I really am. We are all that little kid who came into this world to experience what it’s like to be human. Unfortunately, many well-meaning adults – from parents to teachers to church leaders – show us that who we are is not good enough or too much by forcing us to conform to how they think we should be. We come to think that who we are is wrong and slowly, we tuck bits and pieces of ourselves away and try to become who they want us to be.

For me, it’s like being locked up in a cage with layers and layers of blankets thrown over the top to keep me safe. As a child, I caged myself up bigly. (Is that adverb in the dictionary yet?) I was taught that if you don’t try new things, you won’t feel the pain of failure. If you don’t try to meet new people, then you won’t run the risk of being rejected. If you keep your creative side under wraps, no one will laugh at you. While those beliefs kept me safe, they also kept me from growing. I’ve realized now that there was never anything wrong with who I was. I was just afraid to be me.

what about this theory. the fear of not being enough. and the fear of being ‘too much.’ are exactly the same fear. the fear of being you. – Nayyirah Waheed

I was so heavily covered up that when I first started seeing a therapist and she would ask me a question about what I thought or what I wanted, I went completely blank. I was so terrified to voice what I wanted that I just shook my head and said, “I don’t know.” I’m certainly glad she was patient enough to help me slowly pull the blankets off my cage.

2.  Decide that you no longer wish to believe your beliefs.

I’ve been feeling progressively better since I left behind the place that I associate with being trapped in my cage. I’ve even felt so excited about the endless possibilities opening up for me that, at times, I’ve felt like jumping for joy and dancing around the house, but I don’t. Instead, I keep myself locked down. Lockdown shows up physically for me. I clench my fists, my shoulders round to protect my heart, my lips press tightly together and form a from, and I clench my jaw so hard I feel like my teeth might crumble under the pressure. As you can imagine, that’s not a good feeling.

Abraham Hicks says that a belief is just a thought you keep thinking, so I’ve decided not to believe my beliefs anymore. I’ve found that the only way I can make changes in my life is to make a firm decision. That might be the hardest part of these five steps. We give lip service to making a decision by saying, “I’ve decided to ___.” Then we run off and promptly forget what we promised to do. The ones that stick are felt deep within. Most would refer to it as willpower. People often say they don’t have willpower, but they do. You just have to want it bad enough.

Marisa Peer,  a British hypnotherapist I found on YouTube, says that your mind will believe anything you tell it. (She even shows you how it works. Check her out.) I’ve told my brain that I no longer wish to dwell in a place that hasn’t existed in four decades and my brain is obliging. Thank you, brain.

3. Find imagery that works for you and meditate on it.

I was recently watching a trailer for the new Star Wars movie The Last Jedi. I haven’t watched any of the new movies, but the still for the trailer had an older Mark Hamill on it. I always thought he was cute, so I thought I’d watch it. In it, I heard one of the characters say,

“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”

There it was. My little crush on 70’s Mark Hamill led me to watch a trailer that I wouldn’t have otherwise watched, which then led me to that quote. (Oh, Universe. You’re so sly.) Letting go of the past is the key. All of the people that hurt me are gone now, which means that I’m the one continuing to hurt me now by treating myself the same way they treated me. I have to stop believing what they taught me in order for me to become who I was meant to be. I have to let the past die.

How do I do that? Meditation and imagery work well for me, so I sat with it. In my meditation, I envisioned myself hunched over from the weight of carrying large sacks full of my past hurts. I’ve been dragging them along the ground behind me for years for added resistance. (No wonder my shoulders literally hurt.) I cut those sacks out of my hands, because when you grip something for so long, your hands don’t want to let go. I put each of those heavy sacks on a cloud and I watched as they slowly floated away. I know that the same cloud doesn’t pass twice, so those sacks are gone forever.

Your imagery or method for letting go may be different than mine, but you’re welcome to use my clouds if you’d like. I have millions of them.

4. Letting go is a practice, not a one and done.

My life didn’t immediately become wonderful after that meditation. It’s a practice. For instance, the other night, I was making mashed potatoes and I heard my Dad’s mocking voice say, “These mashed potatoes are lumpy. My mother used to make mashed potatoes with just a masher and she never had any lumps.” Every single time I make mashed potatoes, I hear him say that (and I make mashed potatoes quite often). I decided to put that little jab on a cloud and let it float away like the other stuff. I’m sure more will come up, but I’m not worried, because now I know what to do with them.

After letting my past float off into the ether, I find it very hard to even bring up those things that used to cause me so much pain. It’s not that they’re not there, but I don’t follow those thoughts down the rabbit hole anymore. It’s like my brain has blocked the view of my past, so the only place I can look is forward.

5. Listen to your heart and do what it tells you.

When I was little, I was taught that being creative wasn’t available to me, so I hid that part of me away. However, now that I’m no longer believing those beliefs, I’m free to follow my heart. After being silenced for so long, however, it will take a little time to get used to hearing what my heart has to say. The heart speaks in a whisper, so you have to listen carefully. My brain appears to be cooperating though, so I’m sure that my heart’s voice will continue to become more clear as the days go by.

I left my hopes and dreams behind with that little girl on the tricycle, but I’m starting to find them again. I’ve started playing the piano again. Luckily body memory is allowing to pick up where I left off. I’m reading just for the fun of it instead of simply for information. The other night, I joined the main circle at a party instead of staying on the periphery as I usually do. And I’ve downloaded some courses on photography, drawing, and fiction writing. For the first time in a very long time, I’m actually excited about my future.

Letting go of the past or killing it (whatever works for you) is easier said than done, I know, but once you realize that those childhood hopes and desires are who you truly are,  you’ll want to let go of whatever is holding you back from being your happiest, most fulfilled self. I believe you’ll find that it’s well worth the effort.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We didn’t come here to be just like everyone else. We came here to be our unique selves and to help the world grow simply because for the experience of it. Society tells us to conform, yet it rewards most those that live life in their own unique way. You can choose to live inside the confines of society. It’s safe there and that’s okay. However, if you want to live your life to the fullest, the only way to do that is to be brave and be you.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

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Climbing Lessons

I went rock climbing – on real rock – for the first time. I’ve had several opportunities, but I’ve always been too chicken to try – I hate being the noob. My brother and his family were here on vacation, so my sister, her boyfriend, and I took them rock climbing. Since I wasn’t going to be the only novice climber, I thought it was the perfect time to try.

After watching everyone’s first attempts, it was my turn. They weren’t going to let me weasel out of it, so I roped up, put my I’m-not-going-to-think-I’m-just-going-to-do-it blinders on, and started up the rock.

Sissy's first climb-2
Buddy check
Sissy's first climb-4
Trusting my belayer

Climbing isn’t about having strong arms or tremendous finger strength, although they do help. It’s mostly about trust. First of all, you have to trust your equipment. You have to trust that the hardware bolted to the rock is secure. You have to trust that your rope won’t break if you should fall. You have to trust that your shoes will grip the rock and you have to trust the harness to securely connect you to the rope and consequently, to your belayer.

Secondly, you have to trust your belayer. They literally have your life in their hands. Their job is to allow you enough slack to move up the rock, yet not too much so that if you fall, you won’t fall far. You have to trust that your belayer is going to pay attention and knows what they’re doing.

Finally, you have to trust yourself. You have to get past the fear that tells you that you can’t do it, that you’ll fall, and if you fall, you’ll die. You know that voice is just fear yammering in your ear. You know that you’re as safe as you can be. Your only job is to focus on the rock right in front of you, to look for those tiny places to put your fingers and toes, and take one step at a time. Oh yes. And don’t forget to breathe.

Sissy's first climb-5Sissy's first climb-6Sissy's first climb-7

There was a point where I didn’t think I’d be able to go any further. The bump in the rock where I had my toe was so small and the blip of rock where I had my fingers was so miniscule, that I thought there was no way I could take another step. However, I dug deep and decided to trust my belayer – my sister – to catch me. I took a deep breath and pushed up. To my surprise, I didn’t fall. For me, that was the crux. After that, I knew I could make it all the way.

Sissy's first climb-8

I turned around to look at Long’s Peak and the lake below – there is never a better view than the one at the summit. I even looked down at my family below, who were cheering wildly for me, and I had no fear of the height. It was a big accomplishment for me, in more ways than one.

Sissy's first climb-9
Yay me! And thank you, Jessica.

I enjoyed the high of my accomplishment for a whole day. Then as is my way, I crashed into a funk. As great as that weekend had been, I fell back to reality with a thud. The view from reality wasn’t as pretty as the view from the top of that rock.

I had been doing so well, too: trusting the Universe, playing by the rules of the Law of Attraction, and being patient. Certainly I was on my way to a great job, or better yet, a great big wad of cash was going to fall in my lap, because I was doing everything right, right?

However, I checked my bank account and realized that the well had finally gone dry. I’m in big-time debt and I have very little coming in. Just enough to eat on and put gas in the car that I can no longer pay for. And to top it all off, even Big Lots turned me down for a job. I can’t even get a minimum wage retail job. What the hell is going on?

My old friends, Fear and Control, came to set up shop in my gut. Fear said, “You’re going to lose everything. You’re going to be out on the streets. No will hire you. Ever. You’re fucked.” Control said, “You have no choice. You can’t have a job you’ll enjoy. You have to take whatever miserable job comes along, if any of them will have you.  You’re desperate. Sell your bikes. How dare you think you can have any fun when you can’t even pay your bills!” Fear and Control work well together, don’t you think?

I cried for days. Fear had me in its grip and I couldn’t see any way out. Then it dawned on me that this is the way I always handle tough situations. I get scared and I try to wrestle the fear to the ground by trying to control it. I try to force things to go the only way I believe they can. I’ve always done things from a place of desperation and low expectations, yet I’ve never been happy with the outcome.

However, my mantra over the last year has been “Do It Different” and the first step to doing it different is to know when you’re doing it the same. Now that I’ve recognized that I’m reacting in the same way, how do I do it different?

I thought about what the opposite of control and fear is and realized that it’s trust and faith. But how does one have trust and faith when there is no certainty? I don’t even know for sure there is a “Universe/God/Creator”, but I believe that there is and that’s as close to certainty as I can get, so I might as well give it a go.

Then I realized that climbing that rock for the first time wasn’t just about climbing a rock; it was a lesson in trust. I looked up trust in the dictionary. It said:

Trust: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something

In order to climb, to move forward and up, I had to trust that Jeff had tied me correctly to the harness. I had to trust that Jessica had her belay device set up properly. I had to trust the anchors at the top would hold me and that the rope wouldn’t break. Most importantly, I had to trust my sister.

The only thing I had control of was my own mind, which is, in reality, the only thing over which we ever have control.

I had to trust my way to the top. I had no choice. What I discovered that day is that when you trust, things flow much more smoothly. It wasn’t a struggle or a chore. I didn’t have to keep checking the rope for wear. I didn’t have to remind my sister not to drop me. I could just have fun. All I had to do was focus on the task in front of me and trust that the rest was taken care of. To me, that felt like freedom. Trust is surrender to the process. Trust is allowing others to support you, even when you don’t think you deserve it. Trust is a relief.

Sissy's first climb-10

What I learned in the mountains that day is that I can trust my family, that they have my best interest at heart, and that it’s okay to allow them to help and support me. You may think that’s obvious, but it wasn’t to me until now. After decades of believing I was all alone, it’s a relief to finally allow myself to belong.

I’m still working on surrendering my control of work and money to the Universe, but now that I know what it’s like to trust, I don’t think it’ll be that hard.

Owning My Story Part 1: Mom

Owning our stories and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do. – Brené Brown

Mom1

*Disclaimer – I might not have all the facts right and the timeline is pretty fuzzy, but this isn’t meant to be a factual re-accounting of my childhood. It’s more of an emotional re-accounting of how I perceived my childhood. While my brother and sister shared a childhood with me, their perceptions may be quite different. They have their own stories to tell.

I learned shame at an early age and I’ve carried it with my throughout my adulthood. My childhood wasn’t horrific, but it didn’t have to be horrific for it to have a crippling impact on my life. I hope that by putting my memories down in writing, I’ll be able to let them be where they belong: in the past. As the saying goes, you can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

I also wanted to write my story because I want to prove to the younger members of my family that we aren’t doomed due to our family history and genetics, but we can use these things to make us stronger and help us grow. My goal is to help myself heal and in the process, perhaps heal all those who came before me and all those not yet born.

I sat in front of my computer for a couple of days, typing and deleting, typing and deleting. I had a hard time figuring out what my story is and how to tell it. I’ve decided to tell it in four parts: Mom, Dad, The Drinking Years, and The Not Drinking Years.

My life wasn’t all bad. I was a pretty cute, outgoing kid and the wheels didn’t fall off the family bike until I was about ten years old. However, you don’t need to hear about the time I was three and rode my tricycle in the 4th of July parade. I was dressed in a little sailor dress with a white bucket hat on. I was pretty darn cute. And you probably don’t care to hear about the time my cousins and I walked what seemed like miles down a blistery hot, dusty Kansas backroad to go swimming in the creek that only had about a foot of water in it, but it was nice and cool and we had fun anyway. Or the time my dad, brother, and sister and I were staying in a cabin in Lake City, Colorado and we went out one night along the winding highway to look at the stars. We were talking about the Colorado cannibal, Alferd Packer, and how this was the area where he ate a few people, when we suddenly heard a loud sound, banging and creeping its way up the highway toward us. It kept getting closer and closer until someone said, “Maybe it’s Alferd Packer’s ghost!” We all looked at each other and at once, turned and bolted for the car, my dad included. We sped off up the highway, laughing hysterically.

Those stories are cute and funny, but they’re not My Story.

My story started out pretty “normal” for the first ten years. I was a tomboy. I loved to ride my bike and climb trees and play just about all the sports, but the normal didn’t last. The first particularly bizarre and scary event happened when I was about ten.  The good Christian folks from Mom and Dad’s Wednesday night prayer group decided Mom was possessed by the devil and that they needed to do an exorcism. So one Wednesday night, they put us kids to bed and got to work on those demons. I heard some scary music, like Gregorian chants (which creep me out to this day), coming from the living room, so I got up to see what was going on. All these people that I trusted had my mom surrounded with their hands on her and they were yelling at her. Someone saw me and Dad told me to go back to my mom and dad’s bedroom. The chanting started again and suddenly, a white dress came floating out of the closet and went swooping around the room. I cowered on the bed as the dress swooped overhead, then I got between the bed and the wall so I’d be safe. Now, I’m pretty sure this was a dream. However, I’ve had several dreams that were so real that to this day, I’m not sure they were dreams. This was definitely one of those. I never spoke about the exorcism and like my dream, I wasn’t even sure it had happened. I asked my Dad about it several years ago and he confessed that it had happened. He said he felt pretty bad about it.

Soon after the “exorcism,” a nurse came to our house to explain to my brother and me that our mom was sick and had to go away for a while. I vaguely remember Mom sitting there, looking off in the distance, like she was someplace else.

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surround hullabaloo.” – Sylvia Plath

That’s how I felt that day. As the nurse talked to us, I felt numb. Voices were muffled like I was under water. I felt as if I were watching the scene play out from far away. All I wanted to do was get away, so when the nurse asked if I had any questions, I said that I was fine and walked away. I went to my mom and dad’s room to watch an episode of ‘One Day At A Time’ on our little black and white TV. I couldn’t tell you what the episode was about.

After that, we didn’t talk too much about Mom. We were told not to tell anybody about what was going on. Dad and my grandmother said that people wouldn’t understand and it wasn’t their business. That’s where the shame started. Dad wasn’t much on talking about feelings either, so if I couldn’t tell anybody, then I had no way to process what was going on. I had no one to tell me everything would be okay. I told by all the adults in my life to keep quiet and be a good helper. At school, I isolated myself from the other kids, because I was ashamed. I felt that they wouldn’t like me if they found out about my mother. I was so sad all the time and it made for a pretty lonely childhood.

Mom was taken to the Texas State Hospital in Vernon, TX where she spent about a year. Vernon was about a three hour drive from Amarillo. Dad went to see her at least once a month, but we didn’t see her until we went to pick her up. She seemed reluctant to come home.

The State Hospital had a “prom” for the patients while my mom was there. Just like in high school, she was chosen “Prom Queen”. My mother was thrilled. In fact, she seemed to thrive there. A big part of me believes my mother went in and out of the hospital at will, because it was too hard for her to take care of three kids. She was definitely sick, but I also think she enjoyed the attention she got.

As all this was going down with my mother, we had a student teacher in our music class that I adored. She gave me a lot of attention and was very kind and supportive. One day, she announced to the class that it was her last day as student teacher. I was devastated. They had to have one of my friends bring me lunch in the classroom because I was so distraught. No one understood why I was so upset and I wasn’t even sure why myself, but it was like I was losing my mother all over again and this time, it was just too much to handle.

I believe my mother was in and out of the local psychiatric hospital for the next several years. It was very confusing to see her acting fairly normal when we went to visit her, but hearing my dad tell people how bad off she was. She would come home for a while, but inevitably, she would go back. It was a very unstable life for three small children.

When I was in seventh grade, Mom was driving me to school one morning. We lived on a busy street and if you’ve been to Amarillo, you know that the streets are like four lane highways. As we were backing out, I was chattering away and she turned to the side as if checking to see that the road was clear. I looked at her and then back to see what she was looking at. Strangely enough, I remember thinking there must be a hot air balloon in the sky behind me. What else could cause her to look so shocked? When I looked back at her and asked her what was wrong, she didn’t answer. Her mouth just hung open and her eyes were vacant. Then she started making a groaning noise and fell over in the front seat. The car continued to roll across the street as I jumped out and sprinted back to the house to get my dad. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had had electroshock therapy while in the hospital and had since begun to have seizures. It scared me so badly that I told my dad that I wanted her to go back to the hospital and never come home. I felt guilty for wanting her to go away, but I didn’t feel safe around her. She continued to have seizures for the rest of her life. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop all the time. And the shoes dropped a lot.

Throughout the years, Mom was diagnosed with every mental illness in the DSM: depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and multiple personality disorder. I’m sure there were more. I think they threw diagnoses at her to see if any would stick, but none ever did. To this day, we don’t know what was wrong with my mother. We just know that something was terribly wrong with her.

She was also given every psychiatric drug available at the time. The side effects were terrible, from hair loss to rapid weight gain because she couldn’t stop eating to Tardive Dyskinesia, which caused stiff, jerky movements in her face. And she, like a lot of patients with mental health issues, would periodically go off her meds, sometimes to make the side effects stop; sometimes because she didn’t want to deal with life or something happened that made her feel unsafe. My mom’s biggest concern was for her own safety and she knew if she went off her meds, she would have to go back into the hospital, where she would be locked up and safe.

Mom2

Life with my mother wasn’t all bad though. I loved her very much. When she was well, she would be my greatest champion and the only person I could talk to. She was also fun to be around. She laughed a lot and told the worst jokes ever, but she laughed so hard at her own bad jokes that you couldn’t help but laugh along with her. To this day, her horrible jokes are the only ones I know and they still crack me up. She was also very kind and loving. People were drawn to her like moths to a flame. She could be standing behind someone in a line and they would end up telling her their whole life story. If my mother had been healthy, I can’t even imagine the things she could have done.

This pattern of going in and out of the hospital continued throughout my junior high and high school years and for the first few years I was in college. At one point, I thought I was the cause of her issues because every time I came home from college for the summer, she would go into the hospital. I was told it wasn’t me, but I’m still not sure.

Her mental health grew progressively worse over the years, although she quit going to the hospital. I’m not sure why. My dad kept losing or quitting his jobs, so we moved around quite a bit during that time, which probably didn’t make Mom feel very safe.

In Denver, she started seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with Dissociative Disorder or Multiple Personality Disorder. During the nineties, the psychiatric community was abuzz about repressed memories and satanic ritual abuse (SRA). It turned out that this doctor did some regression therapy with her that led he and my mother to believe that SRA had traumatized her at a very young age and caused her developing personality to split as a coping mechanism.

Mom thoroughly believed that she had suffered SRA at the hands of her mother and a cabal of other wealthy people in their small Kansas town. This doctor worked with her in an attempt to integrate all her personalities into one. However, after he had stirred up this pot of personalities, naming them, developing their stories, the doctor declared that he too was a victim of SRA and dropped my mother to focus on his own recovery. This was the diagnosis she would carry with her for the rest of her life.

We soon moved to Tulsa, which was probably the worst place for her to be. In Tulsa, she was not far from where she grew up. She was back in the area where she felt the most afraid. She thought that this cult of abusers would find her there and kill her. She became extremely manic and hyper-vigilant and she became convinced that God had a mission for her and my dad.

At one point, Mom and Dad went down to Amarillo to visit her mother. I don’t know whether the SRA ever really happened – although I have my own memory (or was it a dream) about people in the basement of the church with hoods and robes on and it was dark with only candles lit – but my mother did. They stayed in my grandmother’s house, because she was in an assisted living residence. I don’t know what happened there, but when my mom came home, she told me that she and Dad had gone through the house and found all the knives that my grandmother used to torture her with and threw them away. She told me that she had crossed over the thin line of sanity that she had been balancing on for so long and that she couldn’t come back. It turned out to be true. After they got home, she became increasingly manic and paranoid by the day and it became too much for all of us.

I don’t know much about torture methods, but I’m pretty sure non-stop, manic talking could be considered a torture method. Mom talked day and night, to anyone she could find. It was mostly my dad, my sister, and me. We wanted to help her, but she wouldn’t shut up. To me, her voice became like a mosquito in my ear canal. I could cover my ears, but I could still hear her. She lost weight, because she would talk instead of eat. She had all these plans. She was unsure that my dad was going to be able to keep up with her. Her plan was to start their own church in a small, southern Colorado town. It was called the Church of What’s Happening Now – which my siblings and I find hilarious but if you knew my mother, it made sense – and their mission was to convert Jews to Christianity. She believed that Dad was the chosen one. She believed he could heal people, but he was weak and she had to be the one to push him. By this point, she had worn Dad down to the point he would do whatever she wanted, just to keep her quiet. She was biding her time until God told her when the time was right to go. They were living off a Texaco credit card. They had no home, their belongings were in my garage, and they were living with me.

One day, I had had enough. I don’t recall what set me off, but I couldn’t take her non-stop talking anymore. I told her to get out of my house. She ordered my dad to come with her, but I told her that he could stay, but she had to go. She told me that if she left him there with me, he would sit on my couch and do nothing. I told her that I didn’t care. He could stay, but she had to go. I have never been so angry with anyone in my life and at that moment, I hated her. I wanted her gone. I jumped in my car, drove to the ATM, and got her some money. When I got back, Dad was still sitting on the couch, head hanging down while she talked at him. I drug her outside by the arm, told her to take the money, and go. She refused to take the money, so I shoved it into her shirt, scratching her skin as I did so, and told her to get the fuck out of my house. She just smiled at me. Not a nice smile, but a smile that said, “You’ll regret this” and she drove away.

I never really meant for her to leave forever. I thought it was a fight. I waited for her to come back or call, but three days went by and we didn’t hear from her. My dad called their friends, our former preacher and his wife who lived a few hours away, and they said she had been there, but was headed to Amarillo.

Mom tried to stay with my grandmother in her apartment at the assisted living facility, but she was told to leave and banned from coming back because she became abusive to the staff. She spent another month or two in my grandmother’s house without food, without money. The neighbors, whom we had known for many years, watched out for her and fed her, but she often refused to eat. They would give us reports on her health, but the only one that tried to go help her was her brother and she refused to let him in the house.

I’m not sure how she spent her time. I heard that she would do a lot of walking and eat the crabapples off of people’s trees. Or play with the kids across the street. I think a part of her knew she needed to get help, so she checked herself into the psychiatric hospital, but quickly checked herself back out when she got scared of the people there.

When she left the hospital, she left without her seizure medication. Not long after that, the neighbors noticed that the doors and windows were all open, which was odd for my mother to do. They went into the house to check on her and found her dead in the back bedroom. Since she didn’t have her seizure medication, she had gone into status, which is a prolonged seizure of 5 minutes or more. Status will cause either brain damage or death if not stopped. My mother died three and a half months after I kicked her out of my house. “Get the fuck out!” was the last thing I ever said to her.

 

 

 

The Good, The Meh, The Not So Much

They must have changed their algorithm at Instagram, because I used to put up random snapshots and get likes from a lot of non-followers and my follower list grew slowly but surely. Then one day, things changed. Now I hardly get a like from anyone but my followers, which is not a bad thing of course, but if one wants her photos to be seen by a wider audience, that’s not going to cut it.

Instagram is a game of numbers. The more followers you have, the higher you are on the algorithm and the more people see your photos. However, I’m not willing to play the “get 10,000 followers instantly” game. I want people to actually like what I do. And since I don’t have 10,000 followers or even 200, then it’s not likely that I’m going to get new followers anytime soon, well, except for the ones who are playing the “get 10,000 followers instantly” game. I get a few of them, but they unfollow me pretty quickly if I don’t follow them back. I know that’s the game, but I’m not interested. Maybe I should be.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I started a 365 challenge on April 1 and I think it’s going pretty well. Some photos are good, others not so much. To experiment and see what works, what doesn’t, and to stretch my boundaries is why I’m doing the challenge in the first place, so I accept the good with the not so much.

I’ve never been good at being a beginner. After reading an article by Amy Clover on perfectionism — check out her website Strong Inside Out — I realized that I’ve always thought that you were either good at something or not. If I wasn’t good when I first tried something, I would quit, assuming I would never be good at it so why bother.

I also based my self-worth on whether or not I was good at something right away. Obviously, since I quit before I could get good, my self-worth has suffered quite a bit. My self-worth has also been affected by the number of likes, comments, and followers I got or more often, didn’t get. Basing your self-worth on external validation is a losing battle. It’s about time to validate my own damn self, right?

I’m sticking with this blog and my photography because I enjoy it, whether anyone sees it or not. I’m trying my hand at allowing myself to be a beginner and maybe one day I’ll get better at it. Maybe one day, I’ll be good at it. I’m “doing it different”. That’s my mantra and I’m sticking to it.

 The Good

perfection
Day two: Panning
Day 23: Can't live without
Day 23: Can’t live without
perfection-12
Day 12: Shoes

The Meh

#instagram #instapic #daily #signs #sign #stroll #coloradosprings
Dday 13: White
Day 7: morning. #365project #photochallenge
Day 7: Morning
Day 19: Four things #instagram #buddha #mirrorimage
Day 19: Four things

The Not So Much

Day 14: My favorite place.
Day 14: My favorite place
perfection-2
Day 3: Smell
perfection-9
Day 17: Fresh

Here’s Your Sign

Here’s Your Sign

Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.

(Author unknown)

A few days ago, I was stuck in my head. You see, I still don’t have a job. I’ve applied for about twenty jobs and not a nibble. I’m trying to be pickier than I have in the past, because I want to do something that will be interesting, challenging, and/or fun. Apparently my résumé doesn’t have the keywords for the fun, interesting jobs. My résumé only shows that I have experience at jobs I don’t want to do anymore, which makes me either over-qualified or under-qualified for all the jobs I’ve applied for.

My goal is not to dwell on the lack of job, but to do things I enjoy doing, so I’ve been working on my photography skills, remembering how to play the piano, and doing a little reading. I’m doing what makes me happy in the hope of bringing more enjoyment into my life, including a fun job. Like begets like, right?

However, sometimes my brain gets stuck in a downward spiral of fear and gloom. When that happens, I go for a hike. (I’ve been hiking a lot lately.) Luckily, hiking takes me out of my head and into my body, which, I have to say, is much more level-headed and intelligent than my brain. I should spend more time there.

I was following a moderately easy trail which begins with a long, slow, steady incline and doesn’t let up until you get to the top. I spent most of the way up talking to the universe. I explained to the universe that I know it gives us signs all the time, but I can’t see any signs, because my fear of scarcity, money in particular, blinds me to any signs the universe may give me. I told the universe it was going to have to make my signs a little more obvious, maybe a big flashing neon arrow pointing HERE’S YOUR SIGN because apparently I’m missing them all.

path5

When I got close to the top of the incline though, my mind started to slow and my body took over. Lack of oxygen will take you out of your head every time. As I focused on my breathing, I watched as my feet moved steadily along the trail, one step after the other, in rhythm with my breath. I noticed then that I had a bit of tunnel vision. I wasn’t seeing anything other than the trail right in front of me. So I decided to look up, when suddenly a flash of color caught my eye. It was a line of tiny yellow flowers.

 

The flowers weren’t on the main trail, but on a steep side trail. I had to scramble a little bit to get to them. As I headed up, I also noticed to my right, a tiny lavender flower growing all by itself. I’m like a kid in a candy shop when it comes to flowers. My eyes get wide and I even giggle a little with glee. (There’s a reason I’m called a plant nerd.)

path4

It was then that I realized that these flowers were my sign. I had been so focused on what was directly in front of me that I almost missed it. Come over this way. Look at this beauty that was right here the whole time. Go see what’s at the top of the hill. Turn around. Here’s a view you never would have seen if you hadn’t followed the signs. I reveled in the beauty and gave the universe a big cosmic hug and a thank you.

What was the sign, you say? Stop following someone else’s path.

path3

I’ve never been one to enjoy the well-beaten path. I’ve tried my whole life because I thought that’s what I supposed to do, but there’s a reason they call it a well-beaten path. It’s already trampled down and smoothed out. It’s been walked by billions of other people. I’ve felt like a failure my whole life, because I couldn’t stay on that damn well-beaten path, no matter how hard I tried. I’ve come to realize though, that the people who move society forward and make a difference in the world are those who create their own path. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

Most of the beauty is off the beaten path. It’s where the wildflowers grow. It’s where the extraordinary view is. There may be big boulders on the path, but it’s kind of fun to figure out how to get around them. Should I go this way through the brush? Should I go that way through the water? Or should I try my hand at bouldering and just climb over?

path2

path1

We all have a choice. We can choose the smooth trail with most of the obstacles worn down or removed, where we simply have to put one foot in front of the other to get where we want to go and that’s okay. Or we can choose to head off onto a side trail even though we’re not exactly sure where it’s going. Perhaps it’ll end up somewhere amazing and give us lots of fun and interesting challenges. Perhaps it will take us somewhere the world has never been. Or perhaps it will lead us back to the well-beaten path eventually, but life is an adventure and that’s what makes it fun.

I’m accepting that I actually like my little side trail. It’s helped me to heal. It’s helped me to help others to heal. It’s led me toward self-acceptance and dare I say, a wee bit of confidence in who I am. It’s led me back to who I truly am. It’s shown me my soul.

If I Hear “Everybody’s a Photographer” One More Time…

If I Hear “Everybody’s a Photographer” One More Time…

I want to be a photographer. There. I said it. I try to keep my deepest desires close to the vest, because I don’t want anyone to tell me the “reality” of trying to break into the photography biz. How “everybody’s a photographer” or how their brother has 15,000 followers on Instagram or how I’d better have a back-up plan. I’m not confident enough for that yet.

My goal is to quietly teach myself the art of photography. I’ve been taking photos for quite a while now, but I’ve been living in my comfort zone of landscapes and macros of flowers, so I started a 365 photo challenge in the hopes of breaking out of my rut. I’m posting them on Instagram (@stefaniejones365), but I’m not pushing the hash tags. I’m doing this project for me, to challenge myself and to have a record of my progress. And it is challenging me. It’s not so much a technical challenge, but a composition challenge. My ultimate subject is people. Hopefully, somewhere along the way during this challenge, I’ll get over my fear of photographing people which I know will open an avenue to the real purpose of my photography. That, however, I will keep to myself.

I get a lot of my learnin’ from YouTube and a vlog I particularly like is Ted Forbes’ The Art of Photography. Ted is a true lover of photography and has introduced me to tons of photographers I’ve never heard of. The video I watched today was called If Ansel Adams Used Instagram, in which he spoke about being a part of one’s time. Adams was an innovator in his time. He was doing things no one else was doing and pushing the boundaries of the technology of his time. Ted says (and I would agree), Adams would surely embrace the technology we have today. He would have been one of the first to try drones and the latest camera technology and would still make amazing images. So, yes, everybody these days is a photographer, but not everybody is an innovator and making unique and interesting photos. As with any art, you have to think outside the box and more importantly in photography, you have to learn to see.

Peter McKinnon is another vlogger I enjoy. His videos are mostly concerned with teaching technique and how to do cool things with the latest technology, but today he posted a video called Stop Taking The Same Boring Photos. In this video, he encouraged people to delve a little deeper in their subject. His example was a salad. You could take a picture of the finished salad and that would be okay or you could take a photo of the prep work or the ingredients before it is all put together or present it in a wine glass or even show the empty bowl with a little dressing and tiny bits of salad leftover. Those images are far more interesting than simply a picture of a salad. In order for your work to stand out, you have to do it different. (See what I did there. Maybe I should rename this blog “Doing It Different”). You have to give your viewer or client that little something extra, so that they’ll be more likely to use you again or recommend you to their friends.

So, that’s what I’m working on right now. Learning to see more, to see differently. My challenge is definitely a challenge and sometimes I fear I won’t be able to come up with a decent image, but that’s what trying new things is all about. My photos may not always great and my ideas might flop, but it sure is fun trying.

blog
This photo accidentally turned out to be even more interesting than I first thought. Instagram wasn’t interested, but I love it.

I Got Triggered

I Got Triggered

 

I’ve been having a hard time lately. This whole “do it different” thing isn’t working as quickly as I wanted it to. It’s not easy to change who I’ve been for longer than I care to admit.

Yesterday, I got triggered and I reacted in the same way I always have:  with a bout of kick-me-in-the-gut, spit-in-my-face depression. I’ve been trying so hard to believe that you get what you most desire if you stop doing the things you do that stop those things from coming to you. It seems so easy for everyone else. Since I’m “doing it different”, I thought that surely I would  get at least a little bit of what I wanted. However, I’m not and someone else is and it feels as if the Universe is refusing to conspire to help me.

Disappointment is the catalyst for my depression. If I have a big desire, I expect the Universe will help me get it. Instead, the Universe gives it to someone else or at least doesn’t give it to me. Then I become deeply disappointed which leads to a big depression and then I give up. I announce to the Universe-very dramatically I might add-that I’m done trying, hoping, wishing, and expecting for anything to get better for me. I feel like I’m the cosmic joke. I want something. The Universe holds out its hand, offering me what I want. I reach out to take it, then it yanks its hand back and yells, “Psych!!” and laughs in my face. I’m pretty sure this is an accurate description of what happens.

Now, I don’t really believe this is how things work. I believe that the Universe has my best interest in mind, just as it does for all of us. I don’t believe in a vengeful Universe. I know it’s me that keeps me from getting what I want, but it seems like there are rules to life and no one gave me the rule book. And certainly no one taught me how to play the game.

I’ve found that movement, be it yoga, biking, hiking, or even weight lifting, is the only thing that helps when I am in deep despair. It helps take me out of my head for a while. Luckily, I live near the mountains and have access to some great hiking trails, so to make myself feel better, I went for a hike. I took the hardest trail the park has and walked without any plan, except to knock the edge off the sadness. I ended up taking a trail that went higher into the hills than I have gone before. I put in my earbuds and listened to Abraham for some words of wisdom. I took pictures of the pasqueflowers that were blooming along the trail. I caught whiffs of the warm pine scented air I love so much and most importantly, I breathed deep and hard.

After walking as far as I felt like going, I turned around and headed back toward the parking lot. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention and found myself on a side trail that seemed to go nowhere. Just ten feet away, I saw the easy trail. It was flat and smooth and wide. No boulders. But I was doing the hard trail, dang it, so I backtracked a little and got back on the trail. Soon, I was off in the weeds again and there was the easy trail right in front of me. Again. This time, I started laughing. I realized that that is what I do in life. I choose to do it the hard way. I force and push. I demand that the Universe give me what I want. I cling stubbornly to how I think things are supposed to go, even though my way has never worked before. The easy path is right there for me and yet I turn away because life isn’t easy, right? It’s supposed to be hard and we’re supposed to work for everything we get.

Well, this time, I gave up and took the easy trail for a while. When I came upon a crossroads, I knew that I didn’t have to choose to go the hard way. I knew it was okay to keep taking the easy way, but I also knew that sometimes the challenging way is more fun. Knowing that I could choose which path I wanted to take, I decided to take the more challenging trail, not because I needed to prove something, but because it was more fun.

I don’t know what taking the easy path in life is supposed to look like, but I do know that when I give up the struggle, things tend to go smoother. I’m going to take the pressure off myself, not try so damn hard all the time, and quit trying to tell the Universe how to do its job. The Universe knows what I want and it knows the easiest, most fun way to get it. I think I’ll try that for a while.